by Dennis Dalman
Steve Reetz of Sartell was not surprised why El Salvadorans are so happy when they lend a hand building a new, nice, earthquake-proof home.
That’s because that Central American country’s landscape is littered with humble homes damaged or destroyed by earthquakes, mudslides or hurricanes. Many of the homes are patchwork hovels made of corrugated steel sheets, tin signs, scrapwood and even cardboard. Most have dirt floors. Many are in the process of constant makeshift repairs, damaged again and again by storms. Others are heaps of rubble, abandoned forever.
Reetz is one member of a team of 30 who recently returned from a “Thrivent Builds” trip to El Salvador. Thrivent Builds is a partnership, affiliated with Habitat for Humanity International. The home the team built is hardly luxurious by North American standards. In fact, it resembles a cinder-block concession stand more than a traditional home, but to the family who will inhabit it, the house is an ultimate dream: very sturdy, a tiled floor, a concrete foundation, real windows – a cozy shelter from any storm that comes along.
For Thrivent Builds, Reetz represented the central Minnesota area on the El Salvador trip. The other 29 workers came from Thrivent Financial Solutions offices throughout the United States, representing various other areas in other states. Reetz is a financial associate for Thrivent.
It was Reetz’s first Thrivent Builds mission, and it won’t be his last. He found the experience a moving, transformational one, and he said he is looking forward to going back to El Salvador for another house-building trip this spring. Already, many youth in his church, Celebration Lutheran Church of Sartell, are considering the possibility of joining him for one of their many youth missions. Reetz’s wife, Kristina, is also thinking about going along.
Reetz and fellow team members worked in a neighborhood called Gethsamani in Ahuachatan in the northern part of El Salvador, a mountainous region just five miles from Guatemala.
The team divided itself into working groups of 15, and both groups built separate homes. This year, Thrivent Builds is sending 30 teams to places in El Salvador to build similar homes. And that is just part of Thrivent Builds worldwide house-building efforts. In the past seven years, the organization spent $180 million to build about 5,000 homes worldwide through Habitat for Humanity. Habitat’s policy is that each family chosen to receive a home must help build the home and then must purchase it on a payment plan once it is completed.
Reetz said he was extremely moved by the kindness of the El Salvadorans he met.
“They are an extremely warm, gracious and happy people,” he said. “They have virtually nothing. They live way below the poverty line. Getting even a basic elementary education is a struggle and only about two percent go to college. And yet they are happy.”
The building teams who come to their towns bring them hope, and they are gratified to know people in North America and elsewhere care about them. That kind of hope has a rippling effect, Reetz noted, causing many good things to happen.
One of Reetz’s happiest memories is when the neighbors all appeared to entertain the housebuilders. They arrived on the site with a mariachi band and spontaneous dancing resulted, with hours of merriment enjoyed by all ages.
The El Salvadorans are fond of making food a vital part of celebrations, and the food, Reetz said, was “fantastic.”
Much of the food is corn-based, such as tortillas. There are dishes of rice, beans and lots of vegetables – a very healthy diet, Reetz added.
The area in and around Ahuachatan is very beautiful.
“In the midst of poverty there is a landscape of gardens, volcanic mountains and beauty everywhere,” he said.
Reetz will soon spend time in Chicago where he will train to be a Habitat worldwide leader, making it possible for him to lead house-building teams anywhere in the world.
His trip to El Salvador was largely underwritten by Thrivent Builds. He purchased his air fair, about $800, and paid $629 for the trip that included everything – accommodations at a nearby resort, transportation and all other living costs.
“It was an incredible experience,” he said, “and I’m looking forward to going back in spring.”
Anyone interested in the Thrivent Builds program can call Reetz at 320-980-4287 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thrivent Financial for Lutherans is a not-for-profit Fortune 500 financial service that helps about 2.5 million members achieve financial securities and helps them give back to their communities. It also has many outreach programs and activities that help congregations, schools, charitable organizations and individuals in need.
Habitat for Humanity is a global nonprofit Christian housing ministry that seeks to bring homes and hope to places throughout the world. Since 1976, it has served more than 500,000 families by helping them build their own homes. For more information on Habitat, visit its website at Habitat.org.